Can Atheists Answer Why?

The following video clip of atheist Richard Dawkins provides a rather clear perspective on the atheists’ view of meaning:

Here Dawkins tells us that he can easily answer why birds have wings “from an evolutionary standpoint.” Presumably this would involve a story of mutations, natural selection, and how wings help survival. By contrast, he tells us that the question “why do mountains exist?” is a meaningless question. We can explain mountains from the geology, but as to purpose, there is not any, so asking why? is a category mistake, like asking “what is the color of jealousy?”   We can talk about biological and geological processes, but as to purpose for why mountains exist, there is none, so the questions are meaningless. Such questions, according to Dawkins, do not deserve an answer because they cannot be answered. There is no purpose, so asking about purpose is meaningless. His example of “what is the color of jealousy?’ is a good example of what logicians call a category mistake, asking a question from different categories, which produces a meaningless comparison.  So Dawkins view here is consistent with what he has said elsewhere, namely ““The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.”

Dawkins can be consistent with his worldview when he can answer “why do birds have wings?” because he is actually answering how do bird wings come about?  He is answering, by his own admission, how the natural processes operate that cause bird wings. He can answer how the natural processes work that cause mountains, but says that there are no purposes for mountains, so asking why they exist is as meaningless as a category mistake. There is no design, no purpose, no end goal.

Since Dawkins feels that asking existence of mountains is meaningless, then asking any question of this nature is equally meaningless. Asking ‘why do humans exist?’ or ‘why does the universe exist?’ would be equally meaningless. To the atheist, all that ultimately causes anything is chemistry and physics, which have natural processes and nothing more.

Meaning, on the other hand, involves a mind that is distinct from chemistry and physics. Meaning is necessary for purpose, and neither of these is possible without something beyond natural processes. Since the atheist only believes in natural processes, there is no ultimate meaning, no purpose, no ability to ask why. The atheist can deal in the realm of temperature, pressure, motion, force, and the related calculations that measure these, but can never assign any meaning to the results of their calculations, for there is no meaning and purpose in the universe. When mankind wonders about ultimate purpose and asks the question “why am I here?” the only answer that the atheist can provide is “because you walked here from over there.” My experience with atheists is that they almost always equivocate and sneak meaning in the side door somehow, for all humans have a difficult time accepting that there is no meaning or purpose in the universe. In this video, Dawkins claims that some questions are meaningful while some are meaningless, which implies meaning exists. Dawkin’s atheist viewpoint is therefore self-referentially inconsistent.

The Christian, by contrast, admits right up front that there is more to the universe than physics and chemistry, that minds and meaning do indeed exist, and that we have ultimate purpose in life because there is an ultimate that exists, God. Without God, Dawkins is quite correct that there is no meaning in the question “why do we exist?” But with an infinite God, we have infinite meaning in the universe.

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About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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33 Responses to Can Atheists Answer Why?

  1. Mike says:

    Well my friend, with all the due respect, isn’t the conclusive statement a meaningless statement?
    What does an “infinite God” mean? And what does his existence tell you about the nature of reality and how to use it for the human and the common well being of all forms of life?
    Also you didn’t even mention anything of our “ultimate” purpose of existence. What is it? Please don’t tell me that the millions of galaxies, trillions of stars, zillions of incomprehensible distances were made for us humans!

    • humblesmith says:

      I’m glad to answer your questions about God. The Bible tells us to always be ready to answer questions about God. Just keep in mind that none of this challenges or refutes the main point of the post, which is that atheism at bottom is a meaningless system. Regardless of the Christians’ answer to this question, the problems with the atheist system still stands.

      Infinity is a concept that has meaning, and God is a person who has meaning….even for those who deny His existence, the term has meaning. That God is infinite simply means He is without limits….since He is loving, He loves without any limits.

      God’s existence tells us that a wise being acted voluntarily to create, and has been periodically acting in creation for a purpose. Some of His purpose has been revealed, but not all, and therefore we look forward to the future where we can learn more of His ways. More directly to the question of meaning, since God is infinite, then every attribute He has, He has it to an infinite degree. Since God is wise, we can never tire of learning about His wisdom. Since God is beautiful, he is infinitely beautiful, and we will never tire of enjoying His beauty. I invite you to learn of Him, for it is enjoyable.

      But as I said, none of this impacts the problem with atheism as pointed out in the post.

  2. thesauros says:

    “There is no purpose, so asking about purpose is meaningless.”
    On atheism, Dawkins is absolutely correctly. No ultimate meaning. No ultimate purpose. No right, no wrong. We’re here for a flash and then we’re gone, utterly and completely, forever and ever. Which must come as a bit of a shock to those thousands of atheists who tell us, much like repeating a mantra, that we can just pretend that our lives have meaning and purpose and presto, there it is.

    As for you, Mike – “you didn’t even mention anything of our “ultimate” purpose of existence.” the author of the post may not have mentioned our ultimate purpose but God has. And no, the universe was not created just for us. Not even the earth was created for us.

    Psalm 19:1,2 – The heavens declare the creative glory of God; the enormity of the universe proclaims the ability of what He is able to do. Day after day the cosmos pours forth a description of Creator God’s power and intellect; night after night it reveals the knowledge required to produce a life-sustaining, mathematically precise, moral universe.

    “As born again Christians, we are God’s workmanship, newly created in and through Jesus the Christ to become people who are able to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10

    #1. The Cosmos was not created for us. It was created for God / Jesus.
    #2. We, humans, were not created for us and for our pleasure. We were created for God / Jesus.
    #3. God does not love us because we’re good. God loves us because He is good.
    #4. God does not love us because we have value. We have value because God loves us.

  3. portal001 says:

    thesauros,

    where did you hear about God? from God?

  4. thesauros says:

    Yes, as a matter of fact. In the same way that you have heard from Him and heard about Him. You are without excuse in denying His existence. Without excuse.

  5. portal001 says:

    In the same way I have heard from Him?

    To verify these we first would have to share how God speaks to us personally, and then we can go from there to discuss in what ways and how these experiences have been the same. I think I know what you’re implying though, to my understanding, The Bible does express that humankind has no excuse for not believing –

    For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse
    (Romans 1:20).

    I assume that through faith you also believe that every human is without excuse. Fair enough, if that’s the case.

    But did God share this with you, or did you read this? Or do you see no distinction in the two?

    What if I’m not denying God? What if I want an all loving God to exist, but I’m trying to understand if and how He is speaking to us? I actually do believe God exists, but to be honest one of the reasons is that I fear denying God.

    Why do you believe in God?

  6. portal001 says:

    And they say that the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the LORD, and one of the reasons that I believe God exists is based on the real fear of denying God, I have a real interest in how other people hear from God.

  7. portal001 says:

    Here’s a genral example of my own experience, I confess that I have felt a deep sense of real, awesome peace at times when and after, praying and worshipping God. I believe this experience is from God, because I fear denying God.

    • Mike says:

      Fear denying God? I don’t know why, but your comment makes me think that you do not worship God because you like him, but because you fear him, which means that your belief is false

  8. portal001 says:

    general* :) btw if you say that Gods Spirit convicts you of the truth of the Bible then fair enough man, I wouldn’t want to ever discount someone sharing that. I could never discount that. All the best mate.

  9. portal001 says:

    I would never want to discount that :)

  10. Pingback: On meaning | Random thoughts

  11. holly says:

    we make our own purpose and meaning….
    if we so choose.
    At the bottom of christianity, why anything exists here has one purpose…to glorify god…
    (HOW some of this crap does that…is another post/discussion for another time… ;)
    But if you boil it down…HERE….mountains….their existence…is all temporary and a dot…
    all pointing to everlasting life…rendering meaning/purpose here…..valueless.
    sin can be forgiven…a life of sin and rot…forgiven..(happily ever after)..point being?
    to the atheist….we have a choice…make purpose and meaning…
    live life…
    experience the richness of walking the journey with others…
    or not…
    down at the bottom…a christian would have the same choice…yes?

  12. thesauros says:

    @portal001
    I wonder what you mean when you say “I fear denying God.”
    =====
    “But did God share this with you, or did you read this? Or do you see no distinction in the two?”

    We bring our beliefs to the evidence. Either we say, “I reject the existence of God” and view the universe and our lives / experiences through that lense, OR we say, “Creator God does exist and Jesus is His earthly representation,” and we view the universe and our lives / experiences through that lense. When it’s the latter, then God communicates with us / me through everything, and everyone, everywhere. I see Him and hear Him everywhere I go. He communicates to me and with me through creation, through His Word, through thoughts and personal interactions.
    =====

    “Why do you believe in God?”

    Well, I didn’t become a follower of Jesus until I was 30 years old. My journey toward a recognition of His presence began maybe five years previous but it was in the spring that I turned 30 that I could no longer deny this Love that seemed to be relentlessly pursuing me. From an evidential perspective, it’s just a scientific fact that this cannot be a material universe only. Matter cannot create itself. Matter is not eternal or infinite. Everything material that begins to exist has a cause from outside itself. There are no exceptions. Therefore, a timeless, immaterial Creator is the only possible answer to “Why is there something?” Beyond that, I believe in God because He has given me the most precious gift of faith, the ability to believe in Him, the ability to trust Him. John 6:44. I believe in God because since repenting of my sins and giving my life to Jesus as Lord / Master / Saviour of my life, His Spirit resides within me, guiding, counselling and comforting me to such a degree that to deny the existence of Jesus would be like trying to deny the existence of my wife and children. It can’t be done.
    =====
    “Here’s a general example of my own experience, I confess that I have felt a deep sense of real, awesome peace at times when and after, praying and worshipping God. I believe this experience is from God, because I fear denying God.”

    Again, what the heck does that mean, “I fear denying God.”?
    From a personal note, I’d advise against putting too much stock in what you feel. Our feelings lie and they lie frequently. As well, that would mean that God is real when you feel the warm fuzzies and not real when you can’t feel this sense of awe and peace. God is real and He is never absent from your life. Period!

  13. portal001 says:

    thesauros, thanks for sharing :)

    “Again, what the heck does that mean, “I fear denying God.”?

    It means I can’t bring myself to deny God – not because I have ever heard God audibly speak to me, or witnessed a Burning Bush, or been struck down on a road to Damascus – but instead because frankly I fear eternal torment.

    Hi Mike,

    ” Fear denying God? I don’t know why, but your comment makes me think that you do not worship God because you like him, but because you fear him, which means that your belief is false”

    But how does that make my belief false? The validity of something doesn’t rest on my own preferences. For example, if I fall into the sea – I will get wet. whether I like it or not, my preference to be wet or dry has no bearing on the outcome of the actual action of falling into the sea.

  14. portal001 says:

    But the first Commandment is to Love God, and perfect love casts out all fear, so I see where you are coming from I think.

  15. portal001 says:

    Mike and thesauros

    hope you both are going well :)

    I think my analogy for getting wet by falling into the sea was a bit illogical, I admit its premises didn’t really follow the basis of your statement.

    Also, I think I may have caused a misunderstanding.
    I think I had muddied up some words and meaning in the last posts I made above.

    Regarding what I wrote about me fearing God,

    What I wrote in the posts above actually more outlined a state of anxiety and worry than a genuine veneration for God. I was distorting terms. It is true that the Bible teaches that we should fear God, but this fear is awe, not anxiety. Anxiety is a bitter bondage in my experience. There is a colossal distinction between anxiety and an awe of God.

    Anxiety involves a fixation on worry and the self, it bounds things up. The bible teaches that that we should be anxious for nothing.

    An awe of God focuses away from self and instead focuses on Love. It is an acknowledgement of Holiness. This awe is not repressive, it is liberating. It is instead giving all anxiety to God, and trusting that He is powerful enough to take it.

    I muddied up words when I wrote I had a fear of denying God. Anxiety and awe of God are polar opposites. In the posts above I was expressing anxiety and worry and then calling it a “fear of God”. Anxiety is very different from awe though. Christ taught that we should love in action, not worry. God is love. Expressing this fear of God is expressing reverence and awe for love. It is releasing rather than repressive.

    I just wanted to clear that up

    Humble smith, I’d appreciate if you could delete the posts I made on this thread where I conveyed that I feared God. I don’t want to be misunderstood.

    • thesauros says:

      THE BAD NEWS IS
      Romans 1:18:
      “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people who suppress the truth by their wickedness,”
      Romans 2:5
      “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.”
      Romans 2:8
      “But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.”

      THE GOOD NEWS IS
      Romans 5:9
      “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!”
      1 Thessalonians 5:9
      “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

      We, as Christians do not need to fear that God is angry with us. When we fall away or disobey, He is saddened and longs for us to return to a life of peace which can only come through obedience. His anger is a non-issue for those who are in a healed and forgiven relationship with Jesus because Father God sees us through the ‘lens’ of Jesus. We can relax. We can lean back into His arms and experience the warmth of His enormous love for us. Every single morning we can start the day by putting on the breastplate of God’s approval (righteousness). We can obey Jesus, not out of fear of punishment if we don’t obey, but because it is a pleasure to serve the One who loves us unconditionally. We can show our love for the One who promises to never leave us, to never give up on us.

      Of course none of us obeys perfectly or is always successful at “casting our anxieties upon Him,” but all He asks is that we continue to try with His strength and power and love.

  16. Mike says:

    Atheism doesn’t imply that there is no meaning or purpose to life, just no objective purpose. We can still find subjective meaning and purpose to our lives. I prefer that a lot better than a world where my objective purpose in life is to be told what to do by someone else. That would be a horrible world.

    • humblesmith says:

      You seem to have made a very accurate statement. When we get down to the bottom of things, those who do not put trust in Jesus do so because they do not want to submit. They would rather put themselves first.

      • Mike says:

        Wrong. Those who trust in Jesus do so to get into heaven so that they can be happy. It’s really just a form of selfishness disguised as humility.

        • SDJones says:

          Even if you’re right about the motives upon receiving Christ (generalizing judgement on motives of hearts), that doesn’t make Humblesmith’s statement wrong – as it doesn’t take away ‘do not want to submit’ as still an act of self motivation. Happiness does not equate to selfishness. If an intention projects another above himself, and that other reflects happiness back upon him, negating that happiness is a disservice to the other. Love is regarding the desire of another as your own. Selfishness is the regard of form, or regard of the reflection above the actual source.

          • Mike says:

            If submitting to god in this world got you sent to hell, and rebelling against god got you sent to heaven, would you submit or rebel?

  17. It is often assumed that the science-based worldview implies that life on this planet is a meaningless accident in a universe that is indifferent to our existence. Humans struggle to find purpose within this purely naturalistic understanding of reality, and so they supplement it with beliefs in supernatural processes and entities.

    • humblesmith says:

      As I have pointed out in several posts in this blog, it is the atheist naturalists who are plainly saying that there is no purpose in the universe. As Richard Dawkins so clearly says, the universe shows no good nor bad, nothing but blind pitliess indifference……in effect, a meaningless accident. Christians counter this and demonstrate that no one can be consistent in such a view. Everyone ultimately concludes there is meaning somewhere, and good and bad do in fact exist. Christians therefore do hold that there is meaning and purpose, supplied by an ultimate God.

      • Mike says:

        Women get pregnant by accident, some people are born by accident. There are people walking this earth today whose very lives came through purely by accident. So what? If you need to feel better by believing you’re the center and purpose of the entire universe then you’re just a narcissist and your worldview is self-centered.

        • humblesmith says:

          A couple of problems with this comment. The post never says we are the center and purpose of the universe, and ad hominems never prove or disprove anything. Apart from those, this comment still does not change the point of the post, which is that atheists’ worldview does not allow for meaning and purpose at any point. They can speak of how things come about, but never why. Yet they almost always do eventually speak of why, showing their system to be inconsistent at best.

          Speaking of accident and chance, we must point out that chance, or accident, strictly speaking, is not a causal force and cannot truly produce anything. Randomness is an explanation of an effect, but accident does not cause anything.

          The “so what?” is that the atheist worldview is, by their own admission, purposeless and meaningless from beginning to end, while Christians can offer eternal value and benefit.

          • Mike says:

            Doesn’t matter what this specific post says, if you’re worldview requires that you be the center and purpose of the universe, it’s narcissistic, period. Atheism allows for subjective meaning and the freedom to give yourself and your life meaning and purpose. Christianity offers submission and slavery and a purpose in life that is to be told what to do for eternity. I’ll take atheism over Christianity any day.

            Accidents and randomness do indeed have causal effects. You get into a car accident and end up paralyzed, you will experience the effects for sure.

          • humblesmith says:

            As I said, and your statements have supported, atheists deny meaning, then assert it.

            I will do a post to clarify the statements of cause and effect, though I’ve already done one.

          • Mike says:

            I have one question for you out of curiosity. Given your criticism of atheism and it’s apparent lack of purpose, and other religions like Islam, if you only had one choice, would you prefer to live in a universe where atheism was true (where there’s no god and no objective purpose) or a universe where Islam is true (where there is one true god and your purpose is to submit to him and live according to Islamic sharia law)?

          • humblesmith says:

            Such questions are what the logic books call a “false dilemma,” for it posits only two options when in fact there are others. Even if we have fun thinking of such dilemmas, my preferences do not impact what is true. I am reminded of Jesus in Matthew 11:27ff when His critics confronted Him with a dilemma.

            Would you rather live in a world where no God existed and every man was allowed to do whatever evil he wished, or one that was run by a God who only did what feels good but required you to deny yourself and submit to his rule?

            My personal preference is to choose the true God who is wiser than I.

            All of this is far afield and the comments on this post will be stopped soon.

          • Mike says:

            You didn’t answer my question, you avoided it. If you had just those two choices what would you choose?

          • humblesmith says:

            An all-wise God is infinitely preferable to meaninglessness. If Islam were true, which it is not, I would choose it. My friend, I now shut down the post, for you also have avoided my questions, never dealt with the point of the post, avoided answering my dilemma, but accused me of avoiding yours.

            The point of the post stands.

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